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MD Bills Seen as First Step to Ending Solitary Confinement

Many prison-reform groups say solitary confinement is torture while corrections officials say it's a valuable safety tool. (Adobe stock)
Many prison-reform groups say solitary confinement is torture while corrections officials say it's a valuable safety tool. (Adobe stock)
February 28, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Addressing concerns over the impact of solitary confinement, Maryland lawmakers are looking at two bills introduced this week aimed at reforming how state prisons use it.

One House bill would prohibit releasing incarcerated people directly from segregation to the street. Another would end restrictive housing for people suffering from serious mental illness, according to Rabbi Charles Feinberg - executive director of Interfaith Action for Human Rights.

He says the bills are a first step toward ending solitary confinement in Maryland prisons, which increasingly is recognized as a human rights abuse.

"We think that prisons should be much more focused on providing services to the people with mental-health issues and other issues like psychological, medical and educational services," says Feinberg. "Rather than just locking people up and forgetting about them."

Maryland,'s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services maintains that its prisons use segregation to keep facilities, staff and incarcerated people safe.

The two bills have bipartisan support and hearings are scheduled next week.

In Maryland, the average length of stay in solitary confinement is from 40 to 50 days. But many formerly incarcerated people say they were held in housing restriction for much longer stretches, according to Feinberg.

Many studies have shown that isolation can create symptoms that are similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other forms of mental illness. He says that's why House Bill 740, which would end releasing people directly from segregation to the outside world, is crucial.

"We think it's a real threat," says Feinberg. "People have been in solitary, and it creates all these terrible mental issues. Then they become a real burden for their family and the community."

A Maryland corrections department report found that almost half of all people incarcerated in the state's prisons were placed in restrictive housing in 2017.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - MD